Let´s start with the easy part. Here is the list of the official Peruvian National Holidays:
However, that doesn´t tell the story at all!! It´s the festivals that are numerous and spectacular! Year after year, more than 3,000 folk festivals, 1,500 musical styles and countless arts and crafts confirm that Peru is home to one of the most varied folk legacies on Earth. The many festivals, even those of a religious nature, reveal the joyous nature of Peruvians, both men and women, and their inclination to be sociable and share their hopes.
Visiting Cusco during major festivals is amazing! You will experience things you could never imagine. These are the perfect times to go on a tour of Cusco or the surrounding area. For example, a Cusco Walking Tour is a great opportunity during many of the July feasts. The Cusco city tour is ideal during Inti Raymi because it visits Sacsayhuaman, where the festival is held.
I have selected the festivals that are most popular and a couple of others that I think are unique. In particular, the celebrations of the Holy Week, Carnivals, Corpus Christi, and the feast of “Señor de los Temblores” (Lord of the Earthquakes), have special significance for Cusquenians. The maximum expression of folklore for the people of Cusco is shown in the Inti Raymi festival.
However, I won´t discount some of the more local festivals. To illustrate this I have included a picture of the poster from the recent festival for the Patron San Blas. This was held in the beautiful neighborhood of San Blas and actually lasted for 2 weeks. So even if the festival isn´t on the calendar, it will probably be fantastic.
“Ch’iaraje” January 20 – Province of Canas, District of Yanaoca (Community of Checa)
This is a ritual fight among the people of the communities of Checa and Quehue who struggle against each other in war games to stimulate the fertility of the land. The winning community receives the larger portion of land. The men are armed with slings, leather whips, and sticks and dress in vests decorated with flowers. The women assist by caring for the horses, collecting stones, and cheering for the men with songs.
“Carnavales” (Carnivals) – The festival of Joy February (variable)
Peruvian carnivals are marked by the festive character of Andean areas. Beyond regional variations, a common characteristic of nearly the entire highland chain is the ritual of the yunza, called umisha in the jungle and cortamonte on the coast. It involves artificially planting a tree trunk laden with gifts, around which the guests dance until it is chopped with a machete or an ax. The couple that makes the final hack that brings down the tree will then both be in charge of organizing the yunza next year. Peruvians across the country are extremely fond of tossing buckets of water (or very common with children, spraying silly string) at each other during this festival, so onlookers should be aware.
“Señor de los Temblores” (Lord of the Earthquakes) The Black Christ and the Carmesí flower - March 30, 2015 (in general it is the 2nd half of March-1st week of April)
Ever since 1650 CE, when the faithful claim that an oil painting of Christ on the Cross held off a devastating earthquake that was rattling the city of Cusco. the locals have been rendering homage to the image of Taitacha Temblores, the Lord of the Earthquakes. The celebration is held on Easter Monday against the backdrop of Easter Week in the city of Cusco. The Cusco Cathedral, where the image is kept, is built on the foundations of the ancient temple dedicated to the pagan god Apulla Tikse Wiracocha. The image of the Lord of Earthquakes is borne aloft in a procession through the streets of the city just as the Incas used to parade the mummies of their chieftains, high priests and supreme rulers. The image used today was donated by King Charles V, and despite centuries of smoke from the candles and incense, no one has dared to restore the blackened painting, that has given the Christ a somber aspect and a dark countenance.
“Señor de Torrechayoc” May (variable) – Province of Urubamba, District of Urubamba.
This festival began in 1860 when an enormous cross was placed in the snow, and the opening of a section of railway (Urubamba-Lares) was celebrated with a mass. Years later, the cross was carried to the city of Urubamba where they began a worship of it. In addition to a mass, the cross is carried in a procession with all its jewels. There are fireworks, parades of dancers, bullfights, and cockfights. Urubamba is an extremely interesting town and we encourage everyone to visit even if it isn´t in May! On the Sacred Valley Tour, you will have lunch in Urubamba.
Qoyllur Rit’y First week of the full moon in June (In 2015 the first June full moon is Tuesday, June 2)- Province of Quispicanchi, District of Ocongate.
The greatest indigenous pilgrimage in the Americas
Each year the people of the district of Ocongate (Quispicanchis) perform a ritual whose external aspect appears to be the image of Christ, but whose real objective is to bring Man closer to Nature. The ritual, associated with the fertility of the land and the worship of Apus, the spirits of the mountains, forms part of the greatest festival of native Indian nations in the hemisphere: Qoyllur Rit’i. The main ceremony is held at the foot of Mount Ausangate at 4,700 m (15,416 ft).
The ritual brings thousands of pilgrims each year that gather at the shrine at Sinakara. Popular belief has it that the infant Christ, dressed as a shepherd, appeared to a young highland Indian boy, Marianito Mayta, and they quickly became friends. When Mayta’s parents found them dressed in rich tunics, they informed the local parish priest, Pedro de Landa, who attempted in vain to capture the infant Christ who had disappeared and left behind only a stone. Marianito died immediately, and the image of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i appeared on the stone.
Today, the festival starts off with the day of the Holy Trinity, when more than 10.000 pilgrims climb to the snowline, accompanied by all sorts of dancers in full costume (chauchos, qollas, pabluchas or ukukus) portraying various mythical characters. The path is accompanied by a procession, fireworks and the symbolic market Alacitas (miniature crafts fair). The ukukus, or bears, are the guardians of the Lord and the Apu mountain spirits, and maintain order during religious ceremonies. At midnight a group of hefty queros, members of what is probably Peru’s purest Quechua community, dress up as pabluchas and set out for the mountaintop, at 6,362 meters (20,867 ft) in search of the Snow Star. which is reputedly buried within the mountain. On their way back down to their communities, they haul massive blocks of ice on their backs for the symbolic irrigation of their lands with holy water from the Ausangate.
“Corpus Christi” June 11
The festival of Corpus Christi has been celebrated all over Peru since colonial times, but reaches a high point in Cusco. Fifteen saints and virgins from various districts are borne in a procession to the Cathedral where they “greet” the body of Christ embodied in the Sacred Host, kept in a fabulous gold goblet weighing 26 kilos and standing 1.2 meters high. At dawn the procession sets off around the main square, bearing the images of five virgins clad in richly embroidered tunics, plus the images of four saints: Sebastian, Blas, Joseph and the Apostle Santiago (Saint James) mounted on a beautiful white horse. Then the saints enter the Cathedral to receive homage. After this the representatives and authorities from various communities of Cusco meet in the main square to discuss local affairs. Finally, the delegations return to the churches amidst hymns and prayers. It is the most important religious feast, in which all the saint and virgins images are taken from the churches to visit the image of Christ that is in the Cathedral. The processions, the street decorations, and the fervor of the citizens are an indescribable show. There are also ritual dancing and many marching bands. The pictures attached to this post are of Corpus Christi!
“Inti Raymi” June 24
The Inti Raymi is a festival that celebrates the Sun God of the Incas and is the most important folkloric expression of Cusco. It is the most solemn and grand celebration of the late Inca Empire. The location of Inti Raymi is the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, located in the north of Cusco. According to Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Sacsayhuaman is “the largest and most magnificent work that the Inca constructed in order to show his power and majesty.”
More than six centuries ago, the Inca Pachacutec instituted the feast to the Sun God. The Cusqueños are still representing the Inti Raymi with the same fervor with which their ancestors performed in the splendid time of the empire. The people of Cusco prepare for the party for many days before June 24, when it fills the square in front of which the Sacsayhuaman fortress rises.
The contemporary version (begun June 24, 1944) of Inti Raymi was begun to honor the memory of the city, its ancient origin, and its status as the cradle of the Grand Inca civilization.
To the beat of ancient musical airs, delegates parade with their traditional costumes, and also, as coming from another time, ñustas, coyas and pallas, which move in undulating columns. Finally, suddenly, the Inca is seen. The sovereign is carried on a litter, which in ancient times was gold and silver, and accompanied by an entourage of dignitaries who walk a respectable distance from him.
“Pachamama Raymi” (Earth Mother Day) August 1st
This is an Andean ritual that worships and gives tribute to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) in a special ceremony called “payment to the earth” with offerings of coca leaves, chicha de jora, and huayruro seeds (mystical jungle seeds). The rite marks the beginning of the Andean New Year.
All Saints Day and Day of the Dead
November 1-2 (Pan-Peruvian)
These days are dedicated to the memory of the dead. The worship of the dead was a common and respected custom during pre-Hispanic times in Peru, and part of that tradition, combined with Christian elements, still lives on today. In general, people attend mass during the daytime. At night, the relatives of the deceased hold a candlelight vigil in the cemetery until dawn on November 2.
“Feria Santuranticuy” (Santuranticuy Fair) December 24
A festival dating back to the colonial period, it now ranks as one of the largest handicrafts fairs in Peru. It is held every year in Cusco’s Main Square, where the painters of religious images and artisans offer a wide range of Christmas figurines to go with the Nativity scenes found in homes and chapels across Cusco. This is incredibly unique to see. The night before this festival, the vendors will sleep on the sidewalks, wrapped up next to their merchandise, to ensure a good place for the next day. The sidewalks around the main plaza are absolutely packed!